Hazardous Waste in Arizona and Around the US

Hazardous Waste in Arizona and Around the US

by: Margaret Sedam

    2.8 million Arizonans live within vulnerable zones from toxic chemical leaks is the consensus from Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.  There is an awesome interactive map on the page which identifies all toxic sites in Arizona.  The site itself can be accessed at the       following web address: http://azcir.org/az-risk-management-plans-epa/.  It is also to be noted that you can see what chemicals are stored where in Arizona, which indicates that chlorine, considered one of the most dangerous chemicals is found in abundance throughout the state, with the largest concentration in the Phoenix area.

In 2011, GoodGuide reported that Arizona has 33 businesses that put out a combined 322,015,549 tons of hazardous waste per year released onto the land, over 4 million tons of toxins into the air and over 2 thousand tons into the water.  The EPA’s Priority List of superfund sites has nine Arizona facilities on the list and only two of the nine garnered above 50% on-site inspections.  With this current knowledge public education becomes an even more important element for the people of Arizona.

I am embarrassed to say that I had not considered the effects of war on the environment and human health, however, consideration of war’s effect opened up new impacts to consider.  In order to understand the concept of war and the environment I would point to one of the principal environmental disasters this country has seen in my lifetime. That would be the destruction of the World Trade Center, which I saw happen in real time on a big screen outside the college library, where I was employed in 2001.  My instant reaction was the instant loss of life; it was sometime later when the health effects on those in the area of the collapse became apparent. Imagine this on a global scale as the world seems to be in a perpetual state of war. Following is a quote from an article by S.M. Enzler that gives a chilling account of the toxins in the air and later in the ground at the World Trade Center.

“As the planes hit the Twin Towers more than 90.000 litres of jet fuel burned at temperatures above 1000oC. An atmospheric plume formed, consisting of toxic materials such as metals, furans, asbestos, dioxins, PAH, PCB and hydrochloric acid. Most of the materials were fibres from the structure of the building. Asbestos levels ranged from 0.8-3.0% of the total mass. PAH comprised more than 0.1% of the total mass, and PCBs less than 0.001% of total mass. At the site now called Ground Zero, a large pile of smoking rubble burned intermittently for more than 3 months. Gaseous and particulate particles kept forming long after the towers had collapsed.”

A map of Superfund sites as of October 2013. Red indicates currently on final National Priority List, yellow is proposed, green is deleted (usually meaning having been cleaned up).

Think of this happening on a global scale.

Finally, although I am aware of many laws being written under the purview of big business, I was unaware that laws were being rewritten to make it easier to sell and/or develop brownfields (land) by offering purchasers liability protections as well as property owners.  The new laws only address responsibility for on-site remediation and no longer cover the hazardous waste that leaches onto another property. Laws being written at the state level are where the legal concept of “Rights of Nature” come into play; a right of nature to thrive and the right of citizens to create local laws to protect the local environment from overreach of big business.

Knowing the extent of hazardous waste sites existing in Arizona as well as the rest of the nation should result in making community commitment to the Earth stronger.  My personal commitment to sustainable energy and a sustainable Earth has been a long term relationship and I do not see that fading but growing stronger. It is our challenge to bring the people of Arizona together on this issue.  Green Times Magazine is also collaborating with others to promote agricultural hemp through an event venue taking place in our own Arizona desert in October in order to make learning about the environment interesting and engaging on a personal level.

I, for one will not change the direction that I have chosen but may have become a bit more resolute in the battle for the people, their land, their air, and their water in Arizona as well as the planet; it is a beginning.